Maker Media Reboots Itself As Make Community

At a community meeting this week, Dale Dougherty, former CEO of Maker Media announced the relaunch of the Make brand. Maker Media is dead, but the brand may live on as Make Community, LLC. Dougherty will remain the CEO of Make Community, and Todd Sotkicwicz, former CFO of Maker Media, was identified as the current CFO of Make Community. This is the same organization that brought you Make Magazine and the Maker Faires gearing up to give you even more Make Magazines and more Maker Faires.

Early this year, we heard rumors about the future of Maker Media and its flagship Maker Faires. Then in May, just before the Bay Area Maker Faire, Dougherty told the San Francisco Chronicle that it was ‘quite possible this could be the last Bay Area Maker Faire’. The Bay Area Faire came and went, and early last month we received news that employees were let go and Maker Media had ceased operations.

Now, according to Dougherty’s summary at the meeting, what remained has now been reformed into a new LLC, Make Community, and he was holding this meeting to gauge how much the community would be willing to contribute. The official launch of Make Community will supposedly be next week, but you can check out the future home of the Make Community at make.co.

For this relaunch, Dougherty identified several things this new company could do that he said are low-risk and will help Make Community earn revenue. He said it would relaunch the magazine, to be published six times per year. From the website as it stands, it looks like this will consist of a “digital issue” and an opportunity to subscribe to a print edition. Dale said that the company can also still rely on the income from about 80 book titles that were published by Maker Media, and that the licensing of mini Maker Faires will carry on through Make Community.

From the website, it looks like the new revenue model for Make is also going to include annual memberships, with each tier granting additional perks. The paid levels offer digital access to Make’s magazine and video archives, plus a discount on the print version of the magazine. The most expensive membership offers discounts on the flagship Faire tickets, a percentage off of products from the Maker Shed, which appears to be closed at the time of writing, and a “FREE Make: Workshop”.

The Maker Community has consistently shown an outpouring of support for Maker Media. When asked if there will be another Maker Faire, Dougherty responded: “It has always been a cash-flow problem instead of a profitability problem” but they require a significant capital outlay to produce. When asked by a member of the community if Make Community can fundraise or crowdfund their way out of this problem, Dougherty replied with an emphatic, “yes”. Whether his enthusiasm is realistic remains to be seen. Dougherty estimates that it costs roughly $2,000,000 to produce either the Bay Area Maker Faire or the World Maker Faire in New York City.

Why did Make Fail?

Dougherty spent some time explaining what went wrong with Make’s old business model. Most damaging was the reliance on venture capital; Maker Media had raised $10 million in venture capital over the years. “This was not a good fit for venture capital,” Dougherty explained, “and the funding model did not make investors happy.” But he also blamed the failure of the Faires on falling corporate sponsorship:

Maker Faire was a victim of its success. The Faires were riskier to do and for us we were still a small company. What we’ve seen over the last year and a half is a decline in corporate sponsorship. And the way it kind of works is that corporate sponsorship kind of gave us the budget for the event, and ticket sales kind of pay expenses after it, and if there was a profit, we made some, but they’re both pretty volatile…. But there was not a significant drop off in attendance [of flagship Faires].

According to figures published by Maker Media, 2015 saw 145,000 makers attend the Bay Area Maker Faire, a slight increase over 2014 numbers. In 2016, Make reported attendance of 150,000, and in 2017 it was listed at 125,000. The number for 2018 was a mere 100,000. That’s still a lot of people, but in less than two years, attendance at the Bay Area Maker Faire dropped more than 30%.

The meeting still left us with open questions, however. If the Faires are profitable and the publications are easy methods to earn revenue, why did Maker Media become insolvent? We’ve reached out to Dougherty and to others involved for clarification. We’ll keep you updated as soon as we know more.

The recording and (partial) transcript of this meeting are up on GitHub. Pull requests for improved transcriptions are encouraged.

[Main image: Dale Dougherty toasting to Maker Faire along with the staff at the close of the 2019 Bay Area Maker Faire]

55 thoughts on “Maker Media Reboots Itself As Make Community

  1. Before the crowdfunding and donations are requested, how about opening the books on Maker Media? Especially for the executive compensation. And what will executive compensation be going forward? Just where did that $10 million of VC go while they went broke operating “profitable” businesses?

    MAKE offices were actually in San Fransisco. How can you succeed in low margin businesses (zine and fairs) while operating in the highest cost location in the U.S.? Digikey operates out of Thief River Falls, Minnesota while Mouser is in Mansfield, Texas. Two of their sponsors could run successful technology supply businesses in low cost areas. Why did MAKE have to operate out of SF, other than so the execs could live the high life?

    1. Is it really fair to compare a marketing company to high volume component suppliers? I am not here to defend them or their business practices, but if they were founded in 2012 that was arguably before real estate became absurdly priced in the bay area.

      1. Real estate has been absurdly priced (certainly compared to Minnesota, Texas, and everything between) at least since 30 years ago when I became semi-aware of such things. I hadn’t realized it was off by more than an order of magnitude.

        Seriously…for the price of renting a one bedroom in SF, I could buy a moderately large house in my area every 4-5 years. And just keep the one(s) I had at that point. Or send five kids to college while enjoying a collection of mortgage-less houses. Or any other number of things.
        That is just nuts.

        1. You know what else is nuts? Thinking you could start an international tech venture in a podunk town thousands of miles away from the nexus of all tech innovation. Part of success is knowing your audience, and how to reach them.

    2. ‘Why did MAKE have to operate out of SF’
      They didn’t have to but silicon valley is a train ride away. You’ve got mythbusters there, noise bridge, & a big maker/hacker community at large. Also they probably already lived there when they started it.
      Living high on community support seems doubtful. Opening the books would be nice & some of their filings are going to be public.

      Payroll was likely not the downfall, I’d bet overextending and poor money management on projects. Cost of office space probably didn’t help.

      That said, it does seem odd that the community wasn’t willing to support them before but they think it will now. I don’t see what changed.

      1. “That said, it does seem odd that the community wasn’t willing to support them before but they think it will now. I don’t see what changed.”

        Unfortunately I think you’ve nailed it. Everyone loved these guys until they were asked to open their wallets to help compensate for the free stuff, pay the writers, etc.

        I watched the rise of MAKE magazine and the “turn your VCR into a cat feeder”-type articles. I always wished them success.

    3. > Why did MAKE have to operate out of SF, other than so the execs could live the high life?

      Back when the company was founded, location was critical. Silicon Valley was still manufacturing things and the tech-hub of the nation/world. These days not so much. Today’s Silicon Valley is mostly a mass of software companies staffed with low-cost hipsters and H1B’s. It’s unlikely the region will return to its former glory, but the snake-oil CEO’s will remain.

    4. I really can’t know for sure why Make was headquartered in SF. My guess would be the reason why is that where the principal creators of Make lived there at that time, and had a long history of living there and that location was affordable at the time. The more companies and people move to current low cost communities, the more those communities will acquire SF like expenses.

    5. Yeah…SF seems to be a poor choice of location logistically, though that seems to be obvious with hindsight.

      The truth of the matter is that Make was doomed as soon as it took that $10m from the VCs. The VCs have an IRR in mind, and they are always making decisions based off of that. There is no way that a magazine company was ever going to meet the expectations of a VC with that much money tied up. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when the books are finally cracked open that most of Makes revenue was probably tied up in servicing debt.

      While SF is kind of only obviously a mistake due to the benefit of hindsight, the danger of taking on too much debt, too early, was a different story. I don’t know if I’d go forward with an executive team with so little foresight, or so little insight into their business.

      I wish them luck, but I’m not going to be giving them anything that I don’t mind losing.

  2. The company needs to have fresh material at each event, record and upload the talks they have which can bring in income from advertising through multiple outlets, good products at their fairies, like new books, book signing sessions, and new items sold first at the faire, I went to three fairies aver the years and saw the same things over and over but it was the community and meeting inspiring people that I enjoyed the most. I was concerned when they almost went under during your last article and hope that they can get things moving forward from here on.

    Godspeed.

    1. $2mm cost to have a Maker Faire. OK, but what was the revenue? By declaring a high cost they are trying to justify the decision to kill it. Revenue is all that matters. Ticket sales, concessions, sponsors, etc. I bet it adds up to more than $2mm. (140k+ attendees? At what ticket price?) This bankruptcy is about really poor management, and the screwing over of the creditors. Shame on them! And get ready for it to happen again.

      1. https://help.makermedia.com/hc/en-us/articles/115000936366-What-are-the-ticket-options-and-pricing-for-Maker-Faire-Bay-Area-2019-

        Adult ticket price for 2019 was between $35 to $50 depending on when it was purchased (early/online/at the door), and $20 to $30 for children/youth. And those are single day passes.

        Even being generous and saying the average ticket price was $35, attendance over the past several years would have resulted in 3.5 to 5 million per show. If they cost $2 million, they were still profitable. And this is just ticket sales, not vendor fees/booths/merchandise/etc.

        Yea, things don’t add up. Probably the accepted notion that if you run a business… any business… you’re entitled to live as large as you possibly can. Around here, ladscapers charge $80+ to mow a small lawn or plow a driveway… and they all drive around in $80,000 to $100,000 pickups, live in $400,000+ houses with $150,000 campers parked in their driveways. It works until people realize a lawn mower is a single $150 purchase, runs for years and is a much needed source of exercise!

        Living within your means and/or sustainable is virtually unamerican these days!

  3. The killer, for me, is that so many people think Maker Faires are dead, and the headlines aren’t helping. Even some less-connected members of my own home hackerspace didn’t realize Maker Faire Detroit was still happening, and it’s just two weeks away!

    Beating the drum about what we’ve lost, without celebrating what remains, will be what actually kills the rest.

    1. And that’s exactly why they will fail again. They don’t care about the community. For example: what community meeting? Was it public? Nope! Was it 30-40 people, cherry-picked (Male), when he made the announcement? Yep. It was a closed meeting. Had one in NYC 2 weeks ago too. Was the community invited? Nope. That picture they used was not from the meetings. It was Maker Faire. This is very telling about how they perceive “community”.

  4. Perhaps the demand for the maker product is declining? For many, there is still a recession. Even during a depression DIY fades away for non essentials, because it’s unaffordable

    1. You are wrong on both points. We have record low unemployment rates and economic growth rates the last administration told us we’d never see again and more jobs than people and like the other poster said DIY
      is cheaper than buying so it increases during a recession.

      1. Bull.

        Sure, we have more jobs. But the pay is crap and the benefits are pathetic. Most jobs created in the last 20 years do not give a person disposable income for hobbies. Hell, far too many of them don’t even get a person off of food stamps!

        We have high economic growth.. which just means that the lucky few who own stocks are seeing their value rise. And we have the beginnings of a new housing bubble. That makes a lot of money for the wealthier minority but just makes it harder for everyone else to buy houses.

        And honestly, I say this with a great job, a growing 401k and owning a duplex myself (all of which I have had since before this administration). In this economy I am lucky with no personal reason to complain.

        I wish I could say that for everyone else I know but most of them are really struggling and their crappy jobs are no comfort.

    2. When money is the tightest, is where most people go DIY, since they have no other option, to do without. Hard times is what really created DIY, it wasn’t a fun hobby, it was survival, still is. New appliances and gadgets are expensive, repairs are very expensive as well, sometimes just the parts are half as much as you paid for the whole appliance. Lot of people don’t like spending that kind of money, or throwing out something that still has a lot of life left in it. It’s always cool to tear something apart, which you expected to pay $75, just to get somebody to estimate the cost of repair, and finding it’s a simple, cheap/free fix, sometimes even better than replacing the part, which would likely continue to fail. There are all kinds of tools and equipment, that are beyond our financial means, usually something we aren’t going to use daily, but would really save a lot of effort when we did need it. We might through something together, that functions close enough for our needs, at a fraction of the store bought cost. Money you save building it yourself, or fixing it yourself, is money you can use on other things. Better value for the money you earn. Maker didn’t invent DIY, nor did they really do a whole lot for the people doing stuff. They just sold and advertised, what people have always been doing. They failed, because their target market would rather spend their money on projects and repairs of their own, a spend as little as possible. Going to a faire would be fun and educational, but not a great expense. It would need to be substantially fresh each time, mostly new and different, to attract repeat customers, and keep the appeal alive, people talking, encouraging family and neighbors to go in the future. They will continue to fail, since their only interest, is to exploit the work of the people they claim to support. Basically, marketing a free product, and squeezing it for profit. You can only squeeze so hard, before it runs dry…

  5. I’d like to ask how many people Maker Media owes money to, and how much debt did they have going into the last Bay Area? They knew they were going bankrupt, yet they had the show and stiffed so many makers, and outside contractors. Make is dead. Let it be. Good riddance.

  6. Boo hiss boo. It sounds like they have learned nothing. I was just fine with them going away after their ridiculous practices and commodification of nearly everything.

  7. They seem to be doubling down on licensing their “brand” and soaking the community for cash. Perhaps they would be better served by improving the depth and quality of their content.
    DIY is punk rock, not corporate shill.
    I don’t think they have learned anything from their failure at all.

    1. The name is not sexy either. Maker just sounds like something a hermit would call himself. Why they doubled down on a bad name is beyond me. The name sounds cheesy and old.

      1. I agree to some extent, but what is better? I like Hacker/hackerspace etc, but I believe it has a negative connotation to many.

        Like it would have a hard time with mass appeal. Whether or not that’s a good goal is debatable.

  8. I think Make servers as a great ‘gateway’ to the larger Maker community for newbies. Its also a good survey of what different folks with in the Maker community are doing. Maybe you’re heavy into robotics and simply curious to see what folks are doing on the metal working front. There’s no one size fits all here – simply having depth and an international face for the Maker community is a good thing.

  9. Mostly irrelevant aside: living in the Houston suburbs, I don’t think I’ve ever had a Mouser order take more than two business days to arrive, and it’s often here the next day.

    1. I’ve never had a Maker Shed purchase take more than an hour and a half to arrive because that’s the drive from the Maker Faire that they used to have a tent at to my home. I have a similar drive from Microcenter.

      They stopped attending that fair a couple of years back and I haven’t really thought much about checking their online store.

  10. Yah. I get it. Maker Media/Community/Whatever may be a little too commercial for it’s own good. But consider this…

    December 1989

    That’s when my personal electronics hobby started. I remember that almost to the date because that’s when on a vacation in SanFrancisco and stumbled upon my first Popular Electronics magazine when I stopped at a drug store to buy a pop. I read it so many times I almost memorized it.

    I arrived just in time to have a front row seat to see the previous “maker” community, centered around RadioShack, Heathkit and magazines, once strong and thriving wither and die. I read about all the fun things the generation before my built while I tried to populate a workshop with what little the Rat Shack still carried and what I could get via mail order catalogs. It always seemed to be at least a few parts short of whatever I wanted to make. I was told by everyone around me that I should give up, nobody makes things anymore. Just buy it ready-made like everyone else and throw it away when it needs service.

    I’m sure there are many people here who go back farther than I do but I suspect there are many more who never experienced the hobbyist desert that was the 1990s and early 2000s. It really looked like the days of being anything but a blind consumer of magic black boxes were over for good.

    Things are better now. We have it better than generation has ever had it in the history of planet Earth. There are so many of us to collaborate with and so many free and open designs on the internet. There are so many parts and tools available to us and at prices that would have been unimaginable a short time ago.

    Would this have happened without Make? I don’t know but Make was certainly at the center of it all from pretty early on. I know the local maker meetup group that first clued me in to the fact that the tides were turning was populated by people who all read Make. I think some even contributed an article or two. It wasn’t long after that when members of said group formed the first hackerspace within 300 miles of my home. And soon after a second, tech-shop like makerspace and a mini Maker Faire. I think they even had a part in the nearest full Maker Faire too.

    Sure, we get more advanced content here on HaD. Make feels a bit less “hackish” a bit more “consumer”. But how many got their start in making and hacking from reading Make vs HaD? If you could only choose one I would send the beginners to Make and the advanced to HaD although I would rather send both to both.

    How do you get the next generation interested? By telling them to Google it? By sitting them down in front of a browser pointed to HaD? Or with a subscription to Make and a trip to the nearest Maker Faire?

    I think we can all point out things which Make has done wrong. But I also think we can point out a lot that they did right and I do think that as a community we will be a lot better off with them then without.

    I will say this though. If a business wants support from the community… 501C3! Be a business if that’s what you want to be but it’s on you to make that business thrive. If you want a community to support and grow your organization for you then it should be non-profit. That’s what makes individuals feel like they are working for their communities mutual benefit not just giving away free time and money to some other people.

    1. “I’m sure there are many people here who go back farther than I do but I suspect there are many more who never experienced the hobbyist desert that was the 1990s and early 2000s. It really looked like the days of being anything but a blind consumer of magic black boxes were over for good.”

      As you admit to not being active in the early 1990’s, I counter that the hacker/maker movement was very active during that time… developing Linux!
      And not just Linux, USENET had its participants (SysAdmins and EE’s) finding workarounds for a lot of proprietary hardware.
      This is not meant as a condemnation to your comment, more of a supplement.

      1. Yep. I recall creating a MOSIX cluster out of a pile of 486’s saved from the scrap heap around the turn of the millennium. Mass produced computers were just starting to get old enough that low end kit was scrap.

  11. Just throwing out a hypothesis: they used venture capital, and the investors wanted their money back. Look at what happened to Pebble-they made a good product, they involved developers, they backed the warranty on their products. In the end, the investors wanted some return better than break-even, and they sold the intellectual property to FItBit and left the husk of the legal entity to the tender jackals of finance.

    Venture capital is driven, in large part, by betting on big returns from a surviving fraction of businesses in which they invest. They often hold controlling interest in business decisions, in order to protect their returns. They aren’t in it out of the goodness of their hearts, any more than most readers here would invest their retirement savings without expecting those savings to grow. Some of your retirement savings may be in these high risk, high return funds. It’s a double-edged sword.

    Criticizing is easy. Especially if you yourself don’t run a business.

    1. Yea, normally I’d expect someone to get VC with the expectation of selling the business to some outfit that expects a profit margin in the low single digits. Otherwise using venture funding seems like a horrible idea.. it’s not a short term payroll loan.

  12. The international feeling and hunger for recognition is what killed them in the first place. Because let’s face it, the whole Maker *something is not VC-style-supporting big business. It could work as a small almost family run company with one English site and few local fairs. Good to support couple of people easy.

    But no, they see themselves as some kind of celebrity and face of some intangible “DIY” movement. Well, DIY is not movement. It’s just life. It’s hobby. And not specific one, it’s like all hobbies together. Really, it was there long before any Maker brand and will be there long after. I’m most amused by the Maker(TM) events in another countries, because what kind of hipsters go there? What makes it any different than the big number of other events and meetings and rallies which were there long before?

    1. Make, was just a marketing concept, cashing in on basically free product. Some people share their work on the internet, some people don’t. I rarely do, mostly, it’s just a hopefully, one time thing, least for repairs. I don’t do pretty work, purely focused on functional. My programming is horrible, almost never use comments. I don’t always use store bought parts or materials, I scrounge, scavenge, basically use whatever I can get my hands on, that can be made to work. I use to post stuff more, but the criticism, the suggestions of how I should have done it, and the endless questions, which can’t really be answered, unless I tear apart something that works, which was all I cared about. I don’t document my work, just run with it.

      I don’t believe there was ever a ‘movement’, or even a ‘community’, most people do this stuff for themselves. Some like to share and brag, some like to team up with like minded folks on larger projects. Likely a whole lot more people outside the ‘community’, that finish one project, and simply move on to something new.

      1. “Some like to share and brag, some like to team up with like minded folks on larger projects.”

        That is pretty much the definition of the maker community (no capitals). Make Magazine and the Maker Faires did contribute to the community by providing a place where makers could see a lot of projects and tool builders could advertise to makers. They probably helped some of the “like-minded folks” find each other and find larger projects to work on.

        I bought Make almost as much for the ads as for the edited content. I stopped going to the Bay Area Maker Faire when it got so crowded and noisy that it was uncomfortable for me to attend (and it became impossible to talk with any of the makers).

  13. Yeah after seeing one of the MAKE magazine with a $700 machine learning CAT TOY, I considered it to be a fucking joke. Like, this seriously cant be real – this IS a parody, right? Nope. 100% serious and legit.

    And then when I found they were trying to trademark the name “MAKE” so that nobody else could use it, they were dead to me. The community and people are not the corporate interests trying to own our culture.

    And we have a “Makevention”. Do you know why? Because we tried having a “Maker Fair(e)”, and these fucks demanded $800 to use that name.

    1. Make Magazine was something that is going to have difficulty competing with other grassroots educational materials. Something like a subscription based Make Magazine does better (by metrics) when there aren’t tons of youtubers and tutorials on hackaday and things on thingiverse. Make Magazine creates a space where it is difficult for the magazine to succeed.

    1. This was supposed to be a reply to [jwcrawley] immediately above. Not sure what went wrong. (Also, it’s not saving my details even though I have “Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.” turned on. I probably need to unblock a certain script or something, though I think I’ve unblocked everything necessary.)

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